Reluctant Witnesses to the Most Incontrovertible Evidence?

God’s role as righteous Judge of humanity is an early and frequent aspect of His self-revelation. It’s also a key component of the gospel message: that a sentence of death has already been passed on mankind, and that human evil, suffering, decay and death all confirm this truth.

Despite the fact that full disclosure of God’s wrath is progressive, increasing in intensity throughout the biblical narrative, Christians tend to look for ways to euphemize this aspect of God’s nature. Perceiving both the general distaste for the concept and the aversion of Christ’s own followers to be directly confrontational about it, skeptics use the entire concept of God judging mankind as a way to characterize Christianity as primitive, barbaric and morbid, with ambitions of control through fear. The effect is that fewer believe this is a faithful representation of Scripture’s teaching. As a result, our witness to the world becomes more ambiguous and feeble on this issue.

The warnings unbelievers receive are either caricatured by comparison with protesters (such as the Westboro Baptist Church) or tend to be in vague terms of “separation from God,” (which, critics say with some merit, is the unbeliever’s natural desire), or inability to enter God’s presence. However, because the study of human nature demonstrates a so-called “negativity bias,” a tendency to pay greater attention to perceived threats than to pleasant though remote outcomes, an honest presentation of the peril of the lost can still be a very effective part of evangelism. Just as the resistance to this doctrine is powerful, albeit mainly emotional, so the emotional appeal, if truthful and free of manipulation, is also powerful.

Scripture describes the mission of believers in this age as the “preaching of the gospel” (Mark 16:15). The gospel is good news, but in order to be seen as good news, an appeal to seek salvation must be preceded by a clear, compassionate presentation of the bad news: God’s judgment is certain, and, in the words of Scripture, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3a)